Eight-Team Playoff Is Here…Almost!

Fans of an eight-team College Football Playoff have to be happy with this weekend’s Power Five Conference championship games.

Consider the matchups in the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC title games. Note the College Football Playoff Committee rankings of the eight participants, and the fact that none of the top four teams play each other:

ACC: No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 7 Miami

SEC: No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 6 Georgia

Big 12: No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 TCU

Big Ten: No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Ohio State

That's not too different from a quarter-final playoff schedule that would match No. 1 vs. 8, No. 2 vs. 7, No. 3 vs. 6 and No. 4 vs. 5.

The big question, of course, is whether the winners of the four championship games will advance to the playoff semi-finals. That determination will be made by the CFP Selection Committee, rather than by the outcome of the four games.

If Clemson, Auburn, Oklahoma and Wisconsin—numbers 1 through 4—all win, there’s no issue. All will advance. And I believe No. 6 Georgia and No. 7 Miami will advance if they win. However, the others are not as clear cut.

No. 8 Ohio State would have a good argument, due to strength of schedule, but the Buckeyes suffered decisive losses to Iowa and Oklahoma. So they could be squeezed out by No. 5 Alabama or if Miami upsets Clemson and both ACC teams get in. I don’t see any scenario where TCU would jump all the way from No. 11 to 4.

It should be an interesting weekend, capped by an interesting Sunday morning in the CFP Selection Committee Room.

No Pac-12: Conspicuously absent from any playoff discussion is the Pac-12 Conference. The league’s championship game matches No. 10 USC vs. No. 12 Stanford, but the winner has no chance to sneak into the playoff.

Why is that? Why will the Pac-12 have failed to “get in” three of the four playoffs to date?

The answer is very simple: disparity in scheduling. And this disparity applies to both conference and non-league games.

Pac-12 teams play nine conference games. That means they play nine of 11 possible opponents in their conference. ACC and SEC teams play eight conference games in a 14-team league. That means they play only eight of 13 possible opponents. The Big Ten plays nine conference games in a 14-team league. Which means they play nine of 13.

As a result, teams in the ACC, SEC and Big Ten often miss several of the toughest opponents in their leagues. This is particularly true of teams in the weaker divisions (like Wisconsin) who only have to play two of seven teams in the stronger divisions.

The Pac-12 also hurts itself by playing a tougher non-conference schedule than the other leagues. Typically, of the three non-league games, Pac-12 teams schedule at least one, and sometimes two, opponents from Power 5 Conferences.

Meanwhile, with four non-conference games at their disposal, ACC and SEC teams typically feast on two or three non-conference cupcakes like The Citadel, Delaware State, Furman, Presbyterian, Murray State, Bethune-Cookman, Jacksonville State, Samford, Mercer, Wofford, Georgia Southern, and Chattanooga, They even schedule these games in late November, when the Pac-12 is playing critical rivalry games.

This scheduling imbalance is the main reason Pac-12 teams have had a tougher time “getting in” to the playoff.

Stanford coach David Shaw is among those who believes this disparity is patently unfair, and that playoff selections will be skewed until the playing field is leveled and all Power Five teams play nine league games. (Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald recently suggested a 10-game conference schedule…even better!).

I’d take it one step further and standardize non-conference scheduling as well, so that each team plays one opponent from a Power Five conference, one from a Group of Five Conference, and no more than one from a lower level FCS league.

Until that happens, the Pac-12 will continue to struggle.

Did We Really Need That Championship Game? The Big 12 is another animal altogether. Remember it has only 10 teams, despite its name. Big 12 teams play a complete round robin against all nine opponents. This year, the league has a playoff for the first time. Oklahoma and TCU will play each other in a rematch of a game played just three weeks ago.

If you play a complete round robin, there’s no reason to play a league championship game…other than TV money, or to try to impress the CFP Selection Committee. Yes, the conference will realize $30 million in TV rights fees. But this strategy could backfire if TCU beats Oklahoma and the league is ousted from the playoff because of an unnecessary title game.

Bowl Eligibles: Good news! Seventy-eight teams are needed to fill the post-season bowl lineup this year, and after last weekend’s games 79 are bowl eligible with six or more wins. So no 5-7 teams will be needed to fill out the field. (There are 40 bowls in all, including the playoff semi-finals and championship game; 78 teams are needed rather than 80 because the semi-final winners advance).

Foster Farms Bowl: Our local Foster Farms Bowl is most likely to land Washington State (9-3, 6-3) from the Pac-12 and Purdue (6-6, 4-5) from the Big Ten. That could change if Washington sneaks into the New Year’s Six Bowls, in which case the folks at Levi’s Stadium could end up with Arizona or Arizona State.

ASU Follies: Earlier this week we noted that firing Arizona State coach Todd Graham was a mistake and that hiring Kevin Sumlin would be a curious choice for Sun Devil Athletic Director Ray Anderson. Now it seems that Anderson, a former Stanford punt returner, is planning to go with Herm Edwards, the old NFL coach and, more importantly, a former client of Anderson’s when he was a sports agent.

Edwards has been away from coaching since 2008, when he was fired after going 2-14 at Kansas City, since then serving as a studio analyst for ESPN. He hasn’t coached college ball or done any recruiting since 1989, when he was defensive backfield coach at San Jose State. Anderson reportedly wants his new coach to retain the existing offensive and defensive coordinators. Perhaps Edwards was the only candidate who would agree to that rather questionable stipulation.

I spent quite a bit of time with Anderson during his Stanford days (I was SID at the time) and occasionally saw him during his years as a sports agent (he represented my friend, the late Denny Green) and an NFL executive. He’s a smart, attractive, confident guy.

But dismissing Graham was a bad move and hiring Edwards would make it worse.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//gacavalli49@gmail.com

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